The Week With No Planes

There seems to be no end in sight for the grounding of all aircraft over most of northern, central and eastern Europe because we seem to have upset a Norse volcano-god. Living close to Manchester airport, it’s strange to look up and see an empty sky. I did see one small low-flying light aircraft this afternoon, but you can’t fly commercial jets at treetop height.

Although this natural disaster hasn’t killed anyone, it’s still causing a huge human cost. I know people stranded in Canada, Ukraine and The Maldives at the moment, someone else putting up stranded Americans as houseguests, and someone who runs a cattery who has six customers currently stranded abroad. One wonders what the economic might be if this goes on beyond a few days. It’s quite likely we’ll see some airlines fold.

I’ve heard people saying the government “must do something” to bring stranded passengers home. The trouble is that nobody really has any idea how soon the airspace over Europe will stay closed. If it’s just a couple of days, the best thing is for people to wait and travel as soon as the planes start flying again. If it lasts for weeks, or in the worst case scenario, months, then people are going to have to get home by alternative routes; short-haul passengers by rail and ferry, long-haul passengers to whatever airports are still open just outside the cloud to continue their journeys by land.

I’m wondering how rapidly the rail and ferry operators can increase capacity in the short term if the grounding of aircraft is prolonged. Virgin Trains were operating additional Anglo-Scottish trains on Friday using their Voyager fleet which isn’t fully-deployed on weekdays, and I see that Network Rail have cancelled some weekend engineering blockades on the East and West Coast main lines, to carry the passengers displaced from internal British flights. What about Eurostar? I don’t know to what extent their train fleet is deployed at present, or whether they have the trains or train crews to operate additional services. As far as I know there’s no technical reason why French TGVs or multi-voltage German ICE trains can run though the tunnel into St.Pancras; the sticking point is the possibly over-strict fire regulations for the tunnel (rules that don’t apply to cars and lorries on the shuttles), and presumably the lack of drivers with both route and traction knowledge. And of course there will be plenty of demand for these trains in France and Germany as well.

Time will tell if becomes necessary to start reinstating mothballed rolling stock and ferries to increase capacity.

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2 Responses to The Week With No Planes

  1. Phantom S says:

    I live on island in the Gulf of Alaska and we can reach the mainland only via plane or a twelve hour ferry ride – both are often canceled or delayed to weather and, yes, volcanic eruptions (google Mt. Redoubt Alaska) – we’ve learned to live with it and we don’t expect our government to step in and take care of us.
    BTW, thanks for turning me on to Mostly Autumn in this blog.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    But to keep things in proportion, the total number of Britons stranded abroad is something like half the total population of Alaska – that’s a lot of people. I think almost everyone knows at least one person stranded abroad at the moment.